CHENNAI: Subhash Chandra Kapoor's former girlfriend, an art dealer in Singapore, gave investigators vital clues that convinced Interpol to issue a notice for the idol smuggler, leading to his arrest in Germany and his extradition to India on July 14.
Paramaspry Punusamy, 56, who owns contemporary art galleryJazmin Asian Arts in the Southeast Asian city-state, approached officers of the CB-CID's idol wing who were on the trail of the New York-based Kapoor, 64, and provided them with a recent photograph of him and tipped them off on his movements.
After Kapoor, a divorcee, went to a Singapore court and accused Punusamy of refusing to return some artefacts that he owned, she said that she was ready to return nine idols. But Punusamy demanded that Kapoor return 20 artefacts that belonged to her.
Punusamy then contacted the Tamil Nadu police and gave them the lowdown on Kapoor. She is believed to still be in touch with a senior police officer in the state.
Till Punusamy unexpectedly stepped into the investigation, investigators were depending on an old photograph to identify Kapoor. "With the more recent photograph provided by Punusamy and updates on Kapoor's location, it became much easier for crack the case," an investigating officer said.
Kapoor claimed in the Singapore court that Punusamy was refusing to return to him 15 artefacts worth more than $250,000 (around Rs 1.4 crore). The couple separated in 2009 after the row over the idols.
"Kapoor had divorced his wife, who was from Jalandhar in Punjab, when he met Punusamy at an art show in San Francisco in 1997," the officer said. Punusamy was displaying artworks from Asia and had put up some Chinese posters. "Kapoor and Punusamy met regularly after that and developed a relationship that lasted more than 10 years," he said.
Kapoor, born in 1949, was involved in many cases of idol smuggling in the country especially from temples in Tamil Nadu, where he and his associate Sanjeevi Asokan, a notorious idol thief, hired Rathinam and Kaliyaperumal to steal ancient idols. The gang plundered idols dating back to the 11th century from Arulmigu Sundareswarar and Varadaraja Perumal temples in Ariyalur district.
Investigators say Kapoor also smuggled Buddhist artefacts out of Afghanistan and various antiques from Pakistan. Kapoor, a US citizen who was born in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, set up an antique gallery in New York and also operated a website, www.artofpast.com, and a company, Nimbus Import and Export Inc, to sell antiques. The website was shut down after Tamil Nadu police alerted US authorities through the Interpol about the illegal sale of idols stolen from India through the site.
Kapoor has been remanded in judicial custody. A magistrate's court in Jayankondam will on Wednesday decide on a police petition seeking custody of Kapoor for 15 days.